Saturday, September 4, 2010

Bath to Bradford on Avon and back - Sustrans 4

I feel I am slowly catching up on my Posts. Generally I write Posts around pictures I take when out cycling. Sometimes I only take a few pictures and sometimes a lot. Then when I return from a ride I use Windows Journal to record a few written notes, Photomatix to process any multi-exposure HDR pictures and then I review and tweak them with Picasa. I finally select a few and export them to a new directory. Then I copy them into a Post and "publish" it in draft format. This uploads the pictures onto my PicasaWeb account and is the Post is then ready for some words.

Although some of this stage can be time-consuming - for instance processing pictures can take an hour - it can be set up and run without me having to hang around, similarly uploading pictures can take time, but I don't have to be there to watch it. Generally this means I tend to have several draft Posts in waiting, at the moment I have 3 draft Posts, with pictures loaded just waiting for me to find a little time to add the worms words.

That was all a big preamble to explain that this Post is from Monday 23rd August - over a week late. My excuses were/are a business trip with no Internet, a holiday - difficult and expensive Internet, my ISP had a failure so no Internet. So my excuse is the Internet.

Back to the Post I had to spend a night in Bath for meetings and generally consider using the train or driving down. I prefer the train despite having to catch 2 trains and a tube-train, it tends to be reliable and means I can get stuff done. The difficulty with the train is that taking a bicycle is not so easy. If I take a standard size bike then I can only travel on the Cambridge to London leg during off-peak times - which can be constraining. In London I would then cycle from King's Cross to Paddington and so avoid using the Tube but would have to make sure that everything was stored and carried on my bike. For a single overnight stay in a hotel this is not a problem, except the challenge of being prepared and packed. The Cambridge to London trains do not have a Guard's Van and bikes are "stored" by the doors .For the London to Bath train the bike would have to be stored in the Guards Van, which is good, but it is better to book a slot, just in case and I would normally end up carrying two panniers after loading the bike onto the train. So not impossible, just a logistical challenge of packing and booking. Booking means fixing a train time and an extra hassle buying tickets.

The alternative is to take my Brompton down - this removes any need to avoid peak train times or book certain trains - but does mean carrying extra weight from time to time on the journey - although again for an overnight stay I would end up with one bag and one bike which is not too difficult. The Brompton only has 6 gears which can be challenging in Bath - quite a hilly City - although where I cycle it is not too hilly. Mind you I would still want to be able to carry all my gear on the bike for the journeys to and from the station at each end. This is more of a problem than it sounds as the Brompton is good at carrying a moderate bar bag and a moderate rack bag - but not panniers. So there is the further nuisance of carrying three items (bike and two bags) and deciding what goes where.

The alternative is sticking my bike in the car along with a few select tools and a choice of cycling gear to cope with different weather and a couple of bags. I used to find plastic supermarket bags convenient for travel - but they are thinner and not quite so strong nowadays. I can also leave when I want to (or rather when I have gotten the other stuff I need to do, done) and take extra stuff like cables or software that needs installing/playing with. So despite preferring to catch the train the car becomes a no-brainer - if I want to have a bike with me in Bath - ho-hum.

Of course the problems of driving - traffic jams - can quickly and randomly rear their ugly heads. In my case as I was driving around the M25 there was a rain front sweeping across the country. The M25 is also being widened in stages with the section between the M40 and the A1(m) underway (a pdf document). All this added up to severe delays - one of the reasons why taking the train helps to reduced the strain! Fortunately my car's GPS offered me an alternate route and I managed to get off the M25 before the holdups. I was impressed. As I drove around a bunch of smaller roads I would occasionally pass over the M25 and yes the traffic was certainly pretty bad. In fact the hold ups went on for so long my GPS offered another re-route. In the end I managed to get down to Bath by 4pm which I figured would give me time for a couple of hours of cycling and a shower and still be in time for the evening meeting.

This time I stayed in the Macdonald Bath Spa off Sydney Road in the centre of Bath with decent car parking. I checked in, which took longer than I expected, the weather was sunny, but my cycling time was ticking away, eventually I managed to get my bike out of the car and go cycling. As time was tight and I was close to the Sustrans 4 route between Bath and Bradford on Avon the easiest option was to cycle along it. I have cycled on the route before - but it is off-road (away from noisy cars) and offers some nice countryside. The route is below - in checking the map to see where I cycled I think I will try and get there a bit earlier next time and cycle from Bath to Devizes and back. It still follows the Kennet and Avon canal and is about 2.5 times further.

Did I mention that I took my Longstaff touring bike with me - mainly because it is slightly smaller (the handlebars aren't was wide as my Marin hybrid) and so easy to manhandle into and out off my car. Next time I think I will take the Marin - although the Marin heads-ups position is not as streamlined and so not as fast it is probably more appropriate for a canal towpath.

Here is a BRT link to the route more information is available from Sustrans along with a download (pdf) apparently Bath to Devizes is 22miles with 21 traffic free although there is a flight of locks near devizes (and therefore a hill). I covered just under 30Kms with around 110m of ascent/descent and most of that was because the hotel is part way up a hill. The canal towpath is of reasonable quality - but after the rainstorms there were quite a few puddles. The Sustrans guide recommends a bell and I would agree the path is quite thin in places and very thin and uneven under a couple of the bridges.

Bath 2 Bradford upon Avon S4.JPG

Although I had passed through torrential rain on my way to Bath the weather in Bath was delightful - as you can see blue skies with a few puffy white clouds. There are loads of boats along this stretch of the canal. The path is quite good - but pretty thin. I am not sure I would want to cycle along here with young children there are stakes, used for mooring boats, in the grass along the edge and you could imagine a tumble in the canal would be a hazard best avoided.


The bridges over the canal were picturesque although as you can see the canal and path both narrow where bridges cross. On this bridge I did see one cyclist take the track up to the road and then back down the other side to avoid the dodgy bit under the bridge.


This area is clearly quite a popular tourist spot as well as a being a "residential canal". This sign provides some tourist information as well as information for the canal users and the white paper to the left indicates when and where the next Kennet and Avon User Group will be held. The yellow page on the right shows that there is quite a lot of maintenance work being undertaken.


Yet another bridge in the distance and also a whole load of puddles to go though. It seems that many cyclists try to skirt them - most are not very deep but if you go through the middle be prepared for some of them being deeper than they look. As I was a little pushed for time I cycled at a reasonable (for me) pace and tended to go through the middle. (Which reminds me I have yet to give my bike a wash!) There were only 3 or 4 times that the jolt on the handlebars was unpleasant.


There were quite a few cyclists - some whom looked liked boat residents, some commuters and some tourists. These two look like tourists skirting the puddles.


This is the entrance to the Dundas Aqueduct - with room for boats to turn around. It carries the Kennet and Avon Canal over the River Avon and the London to Bath (and beyond) railway line. The Aqueduct is to the left and heads left


Although this is the second time I have cycled this route I had not realised that the Sustrans 4 route actually carried on along the towpath past Bradford on Avon. I have been taking a route into Bradford on Avon which on looking at the map I now realise is a detour. The route I took passes a Tithe barn - which according to Wikipedia is a 14th Century building 180ft long and 30ft wide. It is part of the Barton Farm Country Park. Such a Tithe Barn would be used to collect "taxes" or tithes for the Church from local farms.


Just round the corned from the Tithe Barn was this rather nice Jag - although this is not Inspector Morse Country. I think the car is a Mark 2. I forgot to mention it was quite windy - but the Canal route provided reasonable shelter so not so bad for cycling. But, when taking multiple exposure HDR pictures any movement between shots causes blurring - which is why the trees behind the car are so blurry - the wind in this slightly more exposed place.


The canal runs "alongside" the River Avon although being a canal is tends to take a flatter course using locks to get the boats up and down hills. Here is a view looking down on the River Avon.


And another view, I think from the Avoncliff Aqueduct you can see more clearly the river and main London to Bath railway line running alongside each other.


Here is someone mooring up - as you can see not the widest of paths for its various users and warnings are given in the Sustrans blurb. You can also see a boat travelling down the canal.


An interesting sculpture alongside the canal towards the Bath end- although it looks as if it gets changed from time to time. If you follow the link the stump looks the same-- the sculpture is different.


There are heaps of boats along the canal from conventional longboats to some wrecks in the process of being restored. I came across this "eco-boat". Where I grew up in Somerset a lot of hippies were attracted to the Glastonbury area and it was not unusual to see some of New Age travellers in makeshift encampments. They looked as if the tents were made by bending the boughs of trees and covering them with tarpaulin - and for that reason we used to call them "Benders" - which this boat reminded me of. (The link is to a wikipedia article on bender tents - so I was not making it all up!)


I got back to the hotel in time for a welcome and quick and hot shower before having to go out. The bike and I were both covered in mud splatters. I had also been bitten a few times - not something that I usually suffer from. Perhaps next time I ought to bring some anti-mozzie spray! In the roughly 10mile stretch of canal I passed around 275 boats, either moored or moving - much busier than the River Cam.

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